Even President Trump's staunchest allies and fiercest defenders would have to admit that things are going somewhat less than perfectly for him at the moment. His first big legislative initiative just self-immolated. His travel ban has been struck down repeatedly by the courts. His White House is plagued with blundering and backstabbing. His approval ratings are in the 30s.
So far, this administration has not been, as he promised us, so much winning we'll get tired of winning.
And yet ... President Trump has still managed to get a great deal of what he wanted. But perhaps more importantly, he's getting away with a whole lot of things that many observers said he'd never get away with. Let me provide a brief list:
Tax returns: Not only has Trump not released his tax returns as every other president and presidential nominee did for the last 40 years, he and his aides are barely bothering with the bogus line that Trump is being audited and he'll release them once that's done. Long ago Trump decided that whatever criticism he'd get for not releasing them is less damaging or embarrassing than what's in them, so we're never going to see them, and it will apparently generate only the mildest of momentary controversies.
Ivanka Trump: I promise I'll use this argument only once in this article, but imagine if Hillary Clinton were president, and she installed Chelsea Clinton in an office in the White House, obtained her a security clearance, and had her sit in on important policy meetings. You know that it would be the topic of a thousand talk radio rants and a dozen congressional investigations, with Republicans expressing their undying outrage that such blatant nepotism found a home in the administration. Well that's what President Trump has done with his daughter Ivanka, and no one has tried to stop it.
Jared Kushner: When it was learned that Ivanka's husband would be taking on a key role in his father-in-law's White House, people asked whether this was a violation of anti-nepotism laws that had long prevented presidents from handing out jobs to their family members. That rule doesn't seem to apply to young Jared, whom the president apparently believes to be The World's Most Capable Man. Despite the fact that the bulk of his entire life experience consisted of working in his family's real estate business and running a small newspaper, Trump has tasked Jared with achieving peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, reorganizing the federal government, and solving the opioid crisis. Good luck!
The hotel: Trump's operation of a Washington hotel owned by the federal government was a clear violation of the terms of the lease he signed, which barred any elected official from being party to the project. Yet remarkably, the General Services Administration just decided that Trump isn't in violation of the lease after all, which means that foreign governments are free to curry his favor by staying in his hotel and putting money in his pocket. And yes, Trump has promised to donate the money he makes from foreign sources to the Treasury, but since he never gave any details of how he'd be doing that and we'll never see his tax returns, that promise holds about as much weight as the claim he made during the campaign that he had formulated a secret plan to defeat ISIS.
The cronies: With all the billionaires Trump has brought on board, it would be remarkable if some didn't figure out how to use their position to line their pockets. Well don't worry, it's happening. Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor Trump appointed to advise him on regulation, has been pushing for a change to rules on ethanol, which by happy coincidence would have saved a company he owns over $200 million last year had they been in place. That's what we call synergy.
The Trump Organization: Ethics experts said that to truly rid himself of the potential for conflicts of interest, Trump would have to have sold off his company and put the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, Trump had a press conference featuring piles of blank folders which appeared to be holding reams of blank paper, in which he claimed that he was turning over control of his companies to his sons. "They're not going to discuss it with me," he said. Yet this week, Eric Trump admitted that he'll be keeping his father updated on the business' progress. "Yeah, on the bottom line, profitability reports and stuff like that, but you know, that's about it," he said, adding that he'd pass this information along "probably quarterly." And Trump surely wants to know, because the money is pouring in. "I think our brand is the hottest it has ever been," Eric said in another interview.
Again and again over the last couple of years, we've asked, "Can Trump really get away with that?" And again and again, the answer has been, "I guess he can." His political and policy projects may be disastrous right now, but he has shown that with enough audacity, you can do things that nobody imagined anyone would have the gall to even attempt. And he's still doing it.